5 – In the evening
In the evening, Salm fixed his room more tidy than usual, combed his hair longer in the mirror and was more particular with the choice of the pajama he put on, before he sat at his study table and turned on the tabletop and the deskcam. After some effort, he located Hans through the Qualia service and opened a chat line.
Hi Hans, remember me, Salm?
Do you have a screen large enough? Please turn on the videocon, this is me, Salm. Can you see me?
Can you hear me, too? Salm spoke out.
Salm’s videocon window remained blank, but the chat line was active.
Hi Salm, you look regular. Maybe you need a haircut, but otherwise, you look fine. Your parents must be proud of you. Let me guess, Malay or Latino?
Hans, if you don’t mind, can I also see you?
My communicator does not have a camera. But, here, this is the nearest to a picture of Hans Acadiane, the great warrior, the great fisherman.
Salm’s videocon window pulled up a picture which could have come straight out of a coffee-table travel book: a tall, well-disposed man in a loose safari uniform against a backdrop of deep blue sky, glassy, green sea and glittering white beach, struggling with a fishing rod to hoist up a foot-long redfish, which, like his uniform, his thick hair and beard, was flapping in the wind. He grins like a Hollywood star, Salm thought.
You’re looking good yourself, Hans.
James Coburn, The Bahamas, 1999.
Now that you mention the name, you do look a lot like James Coburn. Hey, this is James Coburn! I’ve seen a few old movies where he starred, you know that? And I like his style.
I knew you’d like this picture. Movies used to be just a flat two-dimensional stream. They had a start and an end. Until they loaded them on those humongous netabases. Have you tried playing a thousand movies all at the same time?
Even if I could, why would I want to do that?
It is like all the possibilities, all the threads to one’s existence are being enacted all at once, and one is never quite sure where to start and where to end, except for one’s choice from frame to frame or instance to instance. It is very much like Life.
That’s a strange way of looking at life, Hans, but don’t get too poetic with me. Poetry still confuses me.
They chatted for the good part of an hour. When Salm’s incoming e-mail chimed, he excused himself from the chat to open and read Anis’ message.
She was, Anis wrote, in a hurry since her family was moving on to their next sojourn in a couple more hours, and she had to help pack up their luggage. She was enjoying the vacation, and she thought that Salm ought to enjoy the summer himself by doing better things other than making up stories about a departed soul. But honestly, she liked the poem so very much – Thanks for the ardent emotions, I believe I miss you too – she made her own quick research about the author. She attached a bulletin about a UniForce helicopter that crashed down in Angola and highlighted in glowing pink the name of Hans Acadiane, Ph. D. among the fatalities.
Salm could not at once make sense out of it. Fighting a mixed bout of angst, confusion and incredulity, and with suspended breath, he logged back into Qualia and requested his agent to locate Hans on the Net.
Hans, are you for real? According to a news report, a Hans Acadiane died on January 1st this year in a helicopter crash in Angola.
If you dig deeper into the files, you will also find out that a friendly missile hit the helicopter. But that does not matter now. Things like this always happen, you have to plow through the statistics to believe. It is what I call the Oopps Factor.
Hans, stop kidding! You are either Hans and the report is not accurate, or you are somebody else pulling my leg all this time. I can’t believe that you could play false on me like this.
It is really up to you to believe in what you want to believe. There is a vast, vast sea of information out there, filled with all kinds of applets, objects, blobs, databases, bits and pieces, writhing, pirouetting, flirting, living, dying, fading, growing, connecting, breeding, whatever. Pick out your realities, longer, shorter, smaller, bigger, whatever, and, after each selection, you will find out that there is really not much you can sensibly do except make good use of them, son. Everything else, in the long run, does not matter…
Salm instinctively felt that he could go on and on probing, questioning, quizzing and Hans would just keep on coming back with more. Salm had read of the workings of hackers while preparing a school term paper. He had even spent a lot of effort going through volumes of official, sometimes newly-declassified, documents starting with that seminal policy on defense against network war that spawned a whole industry of new-age viral missile systems. But somehow, Salm knew he was being confronted with something different, something more profound, and his initial queasy feeling of being betrayed gave way to an uncertain, pendulous conciliation, much like the handshaking between two friends after deciding to go mountain biking without first seeking the writ of their parents or their school principal.
Other parts, here:
© Said Sadain, Jr. 1999
[“Babel Rising” first saw print in Bugs and Bytes, In Bigger Prints, a book written and desktop-published by Said Sadain, Jr., Manila, 1999, and is anthologized in The Many Ways of Being Muslim: Fiction by Muslim Filipinos, edited by Coeli Barry (Ithaca, US: Cornell University Press, Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2008 / Manila, Philippines: Anvil Publishing, Inc, 2008)]